Posts Tagged ‘security’

Sergei Prozorov “Like a Thief in the Night”

January 23, 2018 Leave a comment

Prozorov, Sergei 2017. Like a Thief in the Night: Agamben, Hobbes and the Messianic Transvaluation of Security. Security Dialogue 48(6): 473–487.

I shall argue that in the messianic approach, security does not figure as an unquestionable good or as a necessary (or even unnecessary) evil but rather as the problematic aspiration, whose failure itself brings about the messianic event in an oblique manner, ‘like a thief in the night’. Rather than denounce or renounce security, the messianic approach retains it as a demand at the same time as it maintains the impossibility of its fulfilment. The state’s claim to provide security thus becomes the effective means of its undoing. (474)

What messianic politics thereby seeks is only security from the existing apparatuses that are undermined by the demands they could not possibly fulfil. This affirmation of ‘security from security’ reorients security studies towards at once a greater appreciation of security as a desirable good and the dissociation of this good from the structures and institutions that have derived their legitimacy from claiming to provide it. (474)

Rather than read Hobbes’s theory in the familiar terms of the exchange of liberty for security, Agamben insists that the Hobbesian commonwealth ensures no such trade-off and the Leviathan and Behemoth, nomos and anomie, remain entwined to the point of indistinction in every secular order. Insofar as it is not and cannot be the kingdom of God, the security state is forever resigned to the insecurity of stasis. (474)

Since Tertullian, the katechon has been identified with the Roman Empire, a worldly power that delays the end of days and secures public order. For Carl Schmitt, who brought the concept of the katechon into late-modern political-philosophical discourse in his Nomos of the Earth (2003), the idea of the katechon endowed Christianity with a historical dimension, serving as the ‘only bridge between the notion of an eschatological paralysis of all human events and a tremendous historical monolith like that of the Christian empire of the German kings’ (Schmitt, 2003: 60; see also Hooker, 2009: 49–54; De Wilde, 2013; Hell, 2009). (475)

It is a real kingdom, in which God reigned not merely over all beings but also commanded, in a literal sense, such ‘peculiar subjects’ as Adam, Noah and his family, Abraham, Moses and others, with whom he spoke and made covenants. It is this real kingdom with God as its real king that will be restored after the Second Coming and it will be restored here on earth and not in heaven (Hobbes, [1651] 1985: 480–484). (476)

The analyses of the civil commonwealth in the preceding chapters of Leviathan are therefore only valid until the second coming of Christ, after which a different kind of kingdom takes hold, for all eternity. The two kingdoms are perfectly autonomous and only coordinated from the eschatological perspective: ‘both take place on earth and the Leviathan will necessarily disappear when the Kingdom of God is realized politically in the world’ (Agamben, 2015: 48). (476)

The impossibility of fully separating the state of nature from the civil state of the commonwealth, whereby the former survives in the latter in the form of the state of exception (1998: 35–36, 105), only testifies to the transitory and ultimately unsuccessful character of the commonwealth as the project of attaining unity and peace, tranquility and security. Until the kingdom of the God at the end of time, ‘no real unity, no political body is actually possible: the body political can only dissolve itself into the multitude and the Leviathan can only live together up until the end with Behemoth – with the possibility of civil war’ (Agamben, 2015: 49). (477)

While Benjamin’s text is notoriously elliptic, Agamben’s reinterpretation of Hobbes actually helps us to understand this point. ‘The Leviathanstate, which must ensure the “safety” and “contentments of life” of its subjects, is also what precipitates the end of time’ (Agamben, 2015: 53). It does so precisely by repeatedly failing to ensure the security that should render it legitimate. It is precisely the understanding of this failure as necessary and inescapable that underlies the messianic disposition. At the very end of Stasis, Agamben makes an allusion to Paul’s famous claim in the First Letter to the Thessalonians, the consideration of which will help us understand the messianic approach to security: ‘For you are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and security”, destruction will come upon them suddenly, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in the darkness so that this day should overtake you like a thief.…’ (1 Thessalonians 5:3, cited in Agamben, 2015: 53). (478)

The accelerationist disposition is thus an important part of the Western ontopolitical tradition that has served as an explicit or implicit antagonist of the arguably more dominant katechontic disposition. What is common to different strands of accelerationism is their impatience with the katechon and its politics of restraint, which keeps at bay the danger that accelerationism views as pregnant with possibility. (479)

While continuing to be obsessed with security as a scarce good, the neoliberal state no longer posits its own function in the katechontic terms of restraint or delay. Instead, it simply seeks to manage things as they are, with no end in sight in both senses of the word, there being no ultimate goal of government and no recognition of its finitude. (480)

The neoliberal state may therefore be termed a postsecurity state, not because it relinquishes the katechontic function, but rather because in its concern with its own efficiency it loses sight of the effects it was meant to produce. In the post-security state, the katechon which does not delay any end joins forces with the accelerator which does not have any end in view. Critical studies of neoliberalism that emphasize its ‘zombie-like’ status as ‘dead but still dominant’, repeatedly surviving every proclamation of its demise albeit in an ever more dysfunctional state (Peck, 2010; Smith, 2008), illuminate a highly important feature of neoliberal government – its drivenness with no direction and hence no possible end; only a perpetual imperative for acceleration. (480)

The responsible and resilient subject must instead make its security its business: come to terms with a perpetual presence of insecurity, invest in insuring itself against it, learn to bounce back after suffering from it, etc. In this manner, the apparatuses of the Leviathan have not only learned to coexist with Behemoth, but also succeeded in making this coexistence the basis of a veritable ‘ethics’ of eternal insecurity. (480)

In the messianic perspective, little would be gained from a return from a ‘postsecurity’ discourse of risk, responsibilization and resilience to some ‘proper security’. The significance of Agamben’s reinterpretation of Hobbes in the messianic key consists precisely in demonstrating that the katechontic promise was void already in and for Hobbes. The contemporary developments in the governance of security that downgrade, diminish or devolve the katechontic function only make this void character painfully clear. And yet, if the katechontic claim to hold back the disaster is no longer credible, should we then welcome the disaster in question with open arms and even hasten it as the condition of possibility of our emancipation? Such an extreme version of the accelerationist position would locate the problem in our very desire for security, on which the state feeds to justify its existence and then proceeds to convert into the production of insecurity, all in the name of the aversion of the greater catastrophe. Thus, wars are fought in the name of our presumably threatened way of life, while our rights and liberties are trampled on in the name of our physical survival. If it is our desire for security that leads to the production of insecurity, then perhaps this desire should be renounced and (at least a modicum of) insecurity should be affirmed as such (Neocleous and Rigakos, 2011). (481)

The affirmation of insecurity over security ends up in a fatal contradiction, since it was precisely the production of insecurity in the name of security that was the problem in the first place. If we desire security, we could not possibly affirm its opposite. Yet if we happen, for some reason, to desire insecurity, then we do not seem to have a problem because our apparatuses of security already provide more than enough of it to go around. A critique of security would thus find itself with precious little to criticize. (482)

The insecurity that the state produces in the name of security must be exposed and opposed not in the name of a better security to come (or in the name of the insecurity that we should tolerate and come to terms with), but solely in the name of twisting loose from the existing apparatuses and the dangers they pose. The messianic disposition affirms neither a pure security that cannot be attained nor the insecurity that no one could possibly want, but rather security from security, safety from the harm that comes with being secured by the Leviathan that always uncannily resembles Behemoth. (482)

Thus, security in the messianic approach is neither valorized as a glorious end-state nor scornfully refused in a quasi-heroic posture. Instead, it is what we desire and demand but, having seen that our demands lead to nothing more than insecurity, we are now content to be secure from it. Messianic security is a modest and transient – but still eminently real – experience of relief, of being without care or at least of having one of our cares lifted off our shoulders. (483)

The messianic disposition thus resonates with one of the famous slogans of 1968: by demanding the impossible, the security that Leviathan/Behemoth could never provide, messianic subjects act as genuine realists who have freed themselves from all illusions of better security and only seek security from the apparatuses of security themselves. (484)


Jeremy Walker & Melinda Cooper “Genealogies of Resilience”

August 28, 2017 Leave a comment

Walker, Jeremy; Cooper, Melinda 2011. Genealogies of Resilience: From systems ecology to the political economy of crisis adaptation. Security Dialogue 42(2): 143–160.

Engineering resilience, associated with the reigning mathematical ecology (Odum, 1969; Lewontin, 1969; May, 1973), is an abstract variable, simply the time (t) it takes a system to return to a stable maximum (or equilibrium position) after a disturbance. The return is simply assumed, and the equilibrium state is taken as equivalent to longterm persistence. What Holling seeks to define, instead, is a complex notion of resilience that can account for the ability of an ecosystem to remain cohesive even while undergoing extreme perturbations. If stability refers to the familiar notion of a return to equilibrium, ecological resilience designates the complex biotic interactions that determine ‘the persistence of relationships within a system’; thus, resilience is ‘a measure of the ability of these systems to absorb changes of state variables, driving variables, and parameters, and still persist’ (Holling, 1973: 17). (146)

For Holling, the equilibrium approach was dangerous in its abstraction: glossing over the unknowably complex interdependencies of specific landscapes pressed into the conditions of maximized yield, it accelerated the process of fragilization, potentially leading to the irreversible loss of biodiversity. The urgent focus for the conservation manager in a significantly humanized world should not be the equilibrium of a pristine ecosystem, but rather
the resilience of biotic communities exposed to severe economic pressures. (146)

Under the sign of resilience, this is an approach to risk management that foregrounds the limits to predictive knowledge and insists on the prevalence of the unexpected, seeking to ‘absorb and accommodate future events in whatever unexpected form they may take’. (147)

What unites these diverse systems and allows Holling to propose a common theorization of their dynamics is the proposition that each can be defined by a concept of ‘capital’ – this capital, be it financial, organizational or biophysical, is ‘the inherent potential of a system that is available for change, since that potential determines the range of future options possible’ (Holling, 2001: 393). In short, Holling seeks to independently theorize an abstract dynamics of capital accumulation, one not predicated on the progressive temporality of classical political economy but rather on the inherent crisis tendencies of complex adaptive systems. (147)

Hayek’s critique of Keynesian and neoclassical equilibrium theories goes well beyond the political sphere. What is at stake for him is no less than a thorough rethinking of epistemology itself, informed at least implicitly by the insights of his masterwork in neuropsychology, The Sensory Order (Hayek, 1952). As a counter-argument to the predictive fantasies he sees as integral to Keynesian economics, Hayek espouses an epistemology of limited knowledge and uncertain futures. ‘I confess that I prefer true but imperfect knowledge, even if it leaves much indetermined and unpredictable, to a pretence of exact knowledge that is likely to be false’ (Hayek, 1974). (149)

Social systems, writes Hayek (1974), are like the biological systems newly defined by scientists as complex, adaptive and non-linear. They are not subject to the laws of prediction and quantification that govern the simple physical systems of classical mechanics. His texts of the later 1970s and 1980s deploy an approach to complex adaptive systems that is formally very similar to Holling’s but much more radical in its conflation of the financial, social and biological spheres. What Hayek ends up endorsing is a complex systems ontology, one whose unpredictable instantiation (social, economic or natural) cannot detract from the essential unity of all systems. (150)

Like all ontologies, Hayek’s complexity turn generates a number of normative consequences. First, it assumes that time’s arrow moves ever in the direction of greater complexity, and evolution occurs spontaneously in far-from-equilibrium conditions. Perturbations of greater or lesser force are not only inevitable; they are also necessary to the creativity of organized complexity. Here we see in essence the anti-environmentalism of the neoliberal think-tanks when they insist that social and ecological systems will evolve most productively once liberated from the counter-evolutionary control of the interventionist state. (150)

On a purely ontological level, Hayek places the immanent laws of market freedom prior to those of the state or any other transcendental law-making power. (150)

During the last decade, ‘resilience’ has become ubiquitous as an operational strategy of emergency preparedness, crisis response and national security. Although by no means absent prior to 2001 or restricted to the North American prosecution of the ‘war on terror’, the term has proliferated since the formation of the US Department of Homeland Security and the publication of its National Strategy for Homeland Security in 2002. The revised National Strategy, issued in 2007, brings together the structural resilience of ‘critical infrastructures’ and the ‘operational resilience’ of emergency response organizations, government institutions and private enterprise in the face of crisis. The strategy is notable for its insistence that none of the threats facing these structures are fully preventable, and proposes, in lieu of prevention, the notion of ‘resilience’ as a default condition of emergency response (US Department of Homeland Security, 2007: 31). Identifying ‘resilience’ as the essence of a ‘culture of preparedness’, it also situates its recommendations within a general recognition of the limits to full preparation. (152-153)

The National Strategy for Homeland Security of 2007 is notable not only because it reasserts the importance of ‘resilience’ as both a strategic and a psychological imperative of national preparedness, but also because it more fully incorporates the ecosystemic and financial dimension of crisis into its taxonomy of contingencies. Between the 2002 and 2007 editions of the National Strategy for Homeland Security, Hurricane Katrina had intervened, further blurring the cognitive distinctions between the unpredictable terrorist threat, financial crisis and environmental disaster. The 2007 National Strategy for Homeland Security combines an almost obsessive focus on the necessity of preparedness with the disarming recognition that anticipation and prevention of all future contingencies is a logical impossibility. Within this optic, preparedness would seem to demand the generic ability to adapt to unknowable contingencies rather than actual prevention or indeed adaptation to future events of known probability. (153)

What is called for instead is a ‘culture’ of resilience that turns crisis response into a strategy of permanent, open-ended responsiveness, integrating emergency preparedness into the infrastructures of everyday life and the psychology of citizens. It is notable, in effect, that the culture of preparedness envisaged by the Department of Homeland Security sees no end point to emergency. The strategy of resilience replaces the short-term relief effort – with its aim of restoring the status quo ante through post-catastrophe reconstruction – with a call to permanent adaptability in and through crisis. What is resilience, after all, if not the acceptance of disequilibrium itself as a principle of organization? (154)

There is a strong selective dimension to the emerging consensus on resilient growth, one that both reiterates and modifies the Darwinian law of natural selection. Relying as it does on the nonequilibrium dynamics of complex systems theory, what the resilience perspective demands is not so much progressive adaptation to a continually reinvented norm as permanent adaptability to extremes of turbulence. (156)

David Chandler “Resilience and the Autotelic Subject”

Chandler, David 2013. Resilience and the Autotelic Subject: Toward a Critique of the Societalization of Security. International Political Sociology 7: 210-226.

Fillipa Lentzos and Nikolas Rose, for example, in their critique of understandings that security discourses seem to be leading to the securitization of life, observe that we are witnessing “perhaps the opposite of a ‘Big Brother State’” (Lentzos and Rose 2009:243). Discourses of resilience do not centrally focus upon material attributes (military equipment, technology, welfare provisions, etc.) that can be provided by governments as a way of protecting populations or responding after an event. Resilience concerns attributes of the population, both as individuals and communities, which cannot be directly provided by state authorities. For this reason, discourses of resilience do not fit well with traditional liberal framings of security practices as state-centric, national or territorial forms of mobilization, protection, or regulation. (211)

It appears that resilience practices are transforming security discourses from concerns with external threats to fears over the domestic or internal coping and adaptive capacities of individuals and their communities. (212)

Once the human subject is understood as lacking in the capacity to make “free choices,” the private sphere of freedom and autonomy becomes problematized and “life”—that is, the formally private sphere beyond and separate from the public sphere of government—becomes the subject of governance.4 This focus on the inner world of both the state (the milieu of societal life) and the individual (their decision-making capability) operates to efface the traditional subject categories upon which liberal discourses of security, sovereignty, rights, and law were based. Discourses of societal resilience thereby societalize security in their reduction of the formally separate liberal sphere of securing rights and interests into the “everyday practices” of the social sphere, now understood as the source or cause of the problems to be dealt with (see Chandler 2010, 2012b). (214)

The problematic of “bounded rationality” suggests that societal resilience needs to inculcate generic capabilities to equip people with the capacity to make decisions in situations where they have limited knowledge or experience. The inculcation of resilience, in fact, depends on the dematerializing or abstraction from specific risks or insecurities, to become a mode of life, a way of social being: “Risk communication cannot be detached from our everyday lives. It has to be hotwired into our decision-making processes and behaviours” (Edwards 2009:43). In making resilience a matter of the “everyday,” the exceptional event becomes subsumed into the life process itself—choices of university, life partner, insurance policy, child rearing, etc.—subsuming responses to external risk, such as terrorist attack or environmental disaster, under the generic policy concerns of societal governance. (215)

In terms of genealogical framings, it is important to emphasize that what is key in the work of new institutional economics, and developed in the ideas of Hayek, is a conceptual framework of critique and inversion of classical liberal assumptions. This critique was based upon the dethroning or decentering of the human subject as a rational agent, capable of securing itself through knowing and shaping its external world. Even though Hayek does not explicitly frame his understanding in terms of resilience, the individual, subject-centered problematic of learning and adaption, and the influential role of the societal milieu—central to today’s societal discourses of resilience—is fully present. (216)

Giddens states that in the preliberal age, or pre-Enlightenment era, the main conceptual framework for dealing with, or rationalizing, unexpected events or contingencies was through the understanding of fate or nature or God— catastrophic events could not be prevented, merely accepted. In the liberal era, the dominant framework of understanding was that of “risk” or “accident,” a framework which highlighted the borders of control and could be calculated, minimized, or insured against—the point being that “accidents” or “risks” were conceptualized as external factors, outside control.7 Giddens argues that today there is no outside to the human world and therefore no external risk. Once the problem is understood in terms of manufactured risk—setbacks and damage as a consequence of the decisions we take ourselves—work on the self is the only area through which these problems can be addressed. (218-219)

Giddens’ work is very important for understanding and drawing out the consequences of a societalized conception of security within discourses of resilience, and its relationship to our understanding of the human subject. The key point Giddens makes is that societal security has to be addressed at the level of the inner life or the inner capacities of the individual, rather than the material level. This transformation occurs through welcoming insecurity and establishing a proactive relationship to potentially destabilizing security risks: “Schemes of positive welfare, orientated to manufactured rather than external risk, would be directed to fostering the autotelic self. The autotelic self is one with an inner confidence which comes from self-respect, and one where a sense of ontological security, originating in basic trust, allows for a positive appreciation of social difference. It refers to a person able to translate potential threats into rewarding challenges, someone who is able to turn entropy into a consistent flow of experience. The autotelic self does not seek to neutralize risk or to suppose that “someone else will take care of the problem”; risk is confronted as the active challenge which generates self-actualization.” (1994:192, emphasis added) (220)

The autotelic self is understood as an individual capable of self-governing in a world of contingency and radical
uncertainty. The autotelic self turns insecurity into self-actualization, into growth. The subject being interpellated—the “autotelic self”—is very different from the universalized subject of liberal modernity. Whereas the modern liberal subject was assumed to have the will and capacity to collectively act on and to transform, to secure and to know its external world, the transformative activity of the autotelic self is restricted to the internal and cognitive realm. (220)

The reduction of politics to the administration of life was a central concern for Arendt, who argued that “through society it is the life process itself which in one form or another has been channeled into the public realm” (1998:45). The problematic of the societal influencing of behavioral choices she believed “reduce[d] man as a whole, in all his activities, to the level of a conditioned and behaving animal” (1998:45). Rather than understanding and resolving problems through action in the external world, this framing “concerns only a possible change in the psychology of human beings—their so-called behaviour patterns—not a change of the world they move in” (1998:49). For Arendt, this was a “psychological interpretation, for which the absence or presence of a public realm is as irrelevant as any tangible, worldly reality” (1998:49). (220)

The reduction in social, economic, political, and ecological questions to ones of individual choice-making capacities and environmental choice-shaping interventions is so pervasive, we often do not give the broader discourses of societal resilience a second thought. In essence, discourses of societal resilience seek to extend the responsibility of individuals to the world itself, insofar as it becomes reduced to the product of individual behavioral choice. Here, the subject, considered individually and communally, is held to be autotelic—to cognitively construct its own life or world. (222-223)

Cavelty, Kaufmann and Kristensen “Resilience and (In)security: Practices, Subjects, Temporalities”

Cavelty, Myriam Dunn; Kaufmann, Mareile; Kristensen, Kristian Soby 2015. Resilience and (In)security: Practices, Subjects, Temporalities. Security Dialogue 46(1): 3-14.

The basic assumption is that the (in)security of a subject is not only dependent on the character and severity of the threat it is exposed to (its vulnerability), but also on the subject itself – namely, its resilience to detrimental events. The concept thus aspires to describe mechanisms for maintaining stability, survival, and safety – mechanisms that seem equally applicable to the individual, society, nature, and technical systems. (4)

Resilience links security to logics of governance rooted in ecology, engineering, and psychology, which were previously not prominent in the security discourse. It provides novel conceptual linkages and forms of knowledge and asks for interdisciplinary epistemic communities as well as new modes of governance, including more and different types of actors. These interlinkages are the key to understanding how resilience functions in the realm of security, and how resilience is inscribed in a longer historical sequence dealing with the relationship between threats and the threatened and between effect and the affected. (5)

By acknowledging and accepting the idea of an unstable, unpredictable environment, the rise of resilience marks a significant shift from the predictable to the contingent. In contrast to risk analytics and other strategies that mainly seek to prevent and prepare for a potentially disruptive future, resilience is characterized by a temporality that combines the present with the future, but also actively deals with insecurities of the past. (5)

Underlining the importance of the disastrous event splits time into past and future and gives particular political significance to the practices of resilience – which either refer to overcoming past events or potential future disruption. In preparing for resilience, it is the imagined event of the future that determines the present. In enacting resilience, it can also be the disastrous event of the past that determines action in the present (and potentially the future, too). Therefore, resilience is related to technologies of preparedness, but also to the actual process of ‘coping’ (O’Malley, 2010: 488). With this emphasis on adapting to new situations, the discourse of resilience becomes ‘a discourse of futurity’ (Schott, 2013: 213). At the same time, it is backwards-oriented and encourages ‘actors to learn from catastrophes so that societies can become more responsive to further catastrophes on the horizon’ (Evans and Reid, 2013: 91). Resilience therefore promotes a vision of uncertain and traumatic futures (O’Malley, 2010: 488, 492) in tandem with the possibility of overcoming past adverse events and experiences. (7)

[…] resilience redistributes responsibilities – and possibilities of blame. It moves from government to municipalities, from national to local, from security authorities to the citizen – expecting and encouraging beneficial self-organization in the face of crisis by those units that are both knowledgeable of local contexts and directly affected by the adverse event (Hagmann and Dunn Cavelty, 2012). Such a responsibilization has been discussed as a form of  empowerment by some, especially if linked to participation and citizen-led initiatives (Bulley, 2013; Rogers, 2013a). Others have warned against an overly romantic notion of community, which is sought through resilience attempts targeted at the vulnerable (Bulley, 2013). Resilience programs create the subject they speak about and valorize it as either resilient and desirable or vulnerable, undesirable and in need of state intervention. (7)

not only the possibility of disruptive one-time events integrates the need for future resilience into the present. Structurally different from disastrous events are chronic emergencies that have already materialized and continuously materialize in the present. In its assumed universal applicability, resilience is also used to provide answers to such persistent insecurities. Chronic emergencies – for example, climate change (Methmann and Oels, 2015) – inject yet another temporality into the resilience concept. This already materialized insecurity requires a specific set of skills in the resilient subject to deal with insecurity, as the authors of this special issue illustrate. Howell’s account of the soldier takes yet a different angle on the chronic aspect of insecurity, since a resilient soldier, by dealing with the crisis of combat, also contributes to its perpetuation. Resilience thus not only responds to but actively extends crisis, adding to the temporality of the continuous (Howell, 2015). In sum, resilience assembles diverse security practices of dealing with a disruptive past, a potentially disruptive future and ongoing, chronic disruption in the present, all of which emphasize the reiterative temporality of resilience practices. (9)

Resilience thus brings the subject into the focus of security policies – not as an entity to be protected but as an active and responsible contributor to security. This results in a specific relationship between political practices and subjects. Not only is the subject a central enactor of resilience, but resilience policies and practices are productive of specific subjects: the autonomous, organized, emergency-managing subject who behaves in the way that the respective political rationale or practice promotes. (10)

Brad Evans and Julian Reid “Dangerously Exposed: The Life and Death of the Resilient Subject”

Evans, Brad; Reid, Julian 2013. Dangerously Exposed: The Life and Death of the Resilient Subject. Resilience 1(2): 83-98.

[…] the game of survival has to be played by learning how to expose oneself to danger rather than believing in the possibility of ever achieving freedom from danger as such. (83)

Resilience, then, describes much more than the mere capacities of species to persist. It describes the ways in which life learns from catastrophes so that it can become more responsive to further catastrophes on the horizon. It promotes adaptability so that life may go on living despite the fact that elements of it may be destroyed. It confronts all of us living beings, ranging from weeds to humans, with the apparent reality that managing our exposure to dangers is as much as we can hope for because danger is a necessity for our development. (84)

The underlying ontology of resilience, therefore, is actually vulnerability. To be able to become resilient, one must first accept that one is fundamentally vulnerable. (84)

To increase its resilience […], the subject must disavow any belief in the possibility to secure itself and accept, instead, and understanding of life as a permanent process of continual adaptation to threats and dangers which are said to be outside its control. As such, the resilient subject is a subject which must permanently struggle to accommodate itself to the world, and not a subject which can conceive of changing the world, its structure and conditions of possibility. However, it is a subject which accepts the dangerousness of the world it lives in as a condition for partaking of that world and which accepts the necessity of the injunction to change itself in correspondence with threats now presupposed as endemic. (85)

Resistance here is transformed from being a political capacity aimed at the achievement of freedom from that which threatens and endangers to a purely reactionary impulse aimed at increasing the capacities of the subject to adapt to its dangers and simply reduce the degree to which it suffers. This conflation of resistance with resilience is not incidental but indicative of the nihilism of the underlying ontology of vulnerability at work in contemporary policies concerned with climate change and other supposedly catastrophic processes. (85)

Liberalism […] is a security project. From its outset, it has been concerned with seeking answers to the problem of how to secure itself as a regime of governance through the provision of security to the life of populations subject to it. It will, however, always be an incomplete project because its biopolitical foundations are flawed; life is not securable. (85-86)

Resilience is premised upon the ability of the vulnerable subject to continually re-emerge from the conditions of its ongoing emergency. Life quite literally becomes a series of dangerous events. Its biography becomes a story of non-linear reactions to dangers that continually defy any attempt on its behalf to impress time with purpose and meaning. (87)

While the logic of security works on the principle of achieving freedom from dangers, resilience assumes the need to engage with them because their realisation is unavoidable. (87)

Resilience […] evidences most clearly how liberal power is confronting the realities of its own self-imposed political foreclosure as the reality of finitude is haunted by infinite potentiality. This brings us to a pivotal moment in the history of liberalism as the project finally abandons its universal aspirations, along with any natural claims to promote all life as a self-endowed subject with inalienable rights. With the outside vanquished to the disappointing realisation of endemic crises, sheer survivability becomes the name of the political game. (91)

[…] resilience is a form of neoliberal interventionism which, speaking in a governing tone, nevertheless, segregates life on account of its vulnerable qualities as a self-propelling tendency and emancipatory orientation. The connections here to contemporary austerity measures are particularly striking. Such calls have nothing to say about political processes or opening new sites for emancipation. The political is, in fact, pathologised as an unnecessary impediment to the austere vision. What is demanded is a new sense of social responsibility that places the burden of the crises directly onto the shoulders of the globally impoverished, thereby rendering social safety nets as part of the wider systemic problem. (94)

Post-utopianism takes on a number of distinct features in which idealised lifestyles are no longer presented as a common good but a matter of exclusivity. If there is any resonance to idealism, it is not premised on inclusion but the need to be able to ‘opt-out’ of the social landscape. (96)

Frédéric Gros “The Fourth Age of Security”

December 27, 2016 Leave a comment

Gros, Frédéric 2014. The Fourth Age of Security. – Lemm, Vanessa; Vatter, Miguel (eds). The Government of Life. Foucault, Biopolitics, and Neoliberalism. New York: Fordham University Press, 17-28.

The frst age of security is the spiritual age and corresponds to the frst sense taken on by the term “security” in the West. The word “security” derives from the Latin securitas, which can be deconstructed into sine curae: without troubles, without cares. The Greek equivalent, a-taraxia, also means without worries, without unrest. Security designates, in its frst problematization, the mental state of the wise man that has attained defnitive serenity through a series of appropriate spiritual exercises. Here, security has a spiritual meaning, rather than a political one. (17-18)

The goal is to reach in this way a perfect mastery of oneself and of one’s emotions, to constitute a strong ego that would be able to act in the world and confront the world’s hazards without ever allowing oneself to become destabilized. This Stoic security designates the stability of a subject who does not allow him- or herself to be moved by anything and who has at his or her disposal spiritual means that are powerful enough to prevail over all of the world’s misfortunes. This frst sense of security as serenity, as the condition of the wise man, as steadiness of disposition has been of great importance for our culture. (19)

It is important to understand that in this frst sense “security” does not refer to the feeling of being protected or to the absence of any danger, but instead to the capacity to maintain the tranquility of one’s soul in the middle of these dangers and to find the source of security exclusively within oneself. (19)

The second age of security is the imperial age, a concept that has often been suggested by Foucault, even if he never devoted any longer exploration to this problem. (19)

This synthesis between the ideas of Empire, peace, and security had already been prepared by the Roman Empire in the time of Nero when one could fnd coins engraved with the motto “pax et securitas.” But in the European Middle Ages this security, a propaganda theme in the Roman Empire, becomes a political program founded on a mystical hope. In millenarian doctrine, this thousand-year period before the Last Judgment will witness simultaneously the end of history and the disappearance of borders. Indeed, this period of peace and security presupposes the establishment of a single Empire, the Empire of the last days, which brings together all nations around one single faith and in one single political space. One sole flock, as these millennium texts repeat over and again, with one solitary shepherd. The great problem that confronts the medieval West is how to know who this last Emperor will be: will he be French (a new Charlemagne), German (a new Frederick), or might it even be the pope, leader of Christendom? (20)

For here security is Empire; security is the unifcation of worlds; security is the end of history. (20)

The third age of security corresponds to the history of Western Europe and the rise of political philosophies centered on the state of nature and the social contract, that is, Hobbes, Locke, Spinoza, and Rousseau. (21)

This third age of security can be understood on the basis of the disappearance of the medieval dream of Empire, starting with the construction of a new political space composed of a plurality of sovereign states, each attempting to maintain its individual place in the midst of all the others, exemplifed by Westphalian Europe. Here it is no longer a question of security as a spiritual condition, nor of the myth of an Empire of the last days. Instead, the goal is to think the consistency of a nation-state in the midst of history. Security will be defned as the consistency of the state, which is simultaneously the consistency supplied by the state to the rights of its citizens and to the existence of its subjects, and the consistency that the state provides for itself as one political subject in relation to others. Indeed, the very meaning of the word “security” is immediately divided into internal security and external security. (21)

[…] all modern political philosophers want to give a double meaning to the word “nature”: it refers either to the savage immediacy of the state of nature, or to the conformity to Reason and God (natural law or laws). The creation of society and the institution of the state have as their purpose to make possible the application of the laws of nature understood as rational and divine laws: let ownership gained through labor be guaranteed, let the equality of all before the law be respected, let public freedom be preserved, let human solidarity be maintained and encouraged. In all these texts, security does not appear as a right among others, but as the very movement through which our natural dispositions must be assured, guaranteed, maintained, and all this against the eventual abuses of power by a biased, unjust state and against the influence of pressure groups representing particular interests. Security is the process through which consistency must be given by the state and by society to the fundamental, natural dispositions of man,
which, in the state of nature, are precarious and in vain. (22)

For a state, then, external security signifies the defense of its territorial integrity, the development of its military power, the necessity of alliances (which will always be fragile and reversible), the cynical calculation of its interests, the development of a systematic suspicion all other countries, and its ability to start wars or make peace as soon as its interests come into play. In expressions such as “nuclear security,” “UN Security Council,” or “collective security system” it is this sense of “security” which is predominant, and which has been predominant in Europe across the nineteenth century and up to the end of the Cold War. I refer to this sense of security as sovereign security. (22-23)

Biopolitics names the fourth age of security. […] The object of security has changed. The great statements of political realism named, as the principal object of security, the defense of the state’s territorial integrity, which may require the sacrifce of citizens. The doctrine of human security instead proclaims insistently that living populations and individuals ought to constitute the new object of security. They are what must be protected: what is sacred is no longer the sovereignty of the state, but the life of the individual. From here arises the principle of the right to interference, or what international institutions today defne as the “responsibility to protect.” (23)

As soon as the state is no longer the frst and fnal object of security, everything that is involved in the life of civil populations becomes an object of security. In this manner, one speaks today of “nutritional security” and “energy security.” The chief characteristic of these new objects of security is that they are constituted by flows: the flow of food, of energy, but also of images and of data (and, by simple extension, one speaks of “traffic security,” “information security,” “internet security,” etc.). (23-24)

This redistribution of objects also involves a redistribution of the principal actors of security. Previously, the state constituted itself simultaneously as the sole object and sole subject of security. Once the object of security is seen as constituted by civil populations, or by various flows, the principal actors of security change as well. One witnesses a double movement that leads constantly to the delegitimization of the state as sole actor of security: on the one hand, a privatization of security in which private companies and organisms present themselves as specialists in the control of a given flow, and on the other hand, a humanitarianization of security in which the protection of civil populations will fall under the aegis of humanitarian organizations that do not, unlike states, seek to protect one or more given sets of political subjects, but strive to come to the aid of civil populations that are at risk of death, no matter what the nature of this risk may be. (24)

After the Second World War, through the work of Donald Winnicott and Margaret Mahler (and later through the work of Franz Veldman and the school of haptonomy), an idea took shape in contemporary psychology that security is to be defned as the internal construction of the subject: security is what allows the child to grow up successfully. From here on child psychology is redefned as a technique for making the child secure. Security is understood simultaneously as protection—that is, the child must feel surrounded by a protective barrier, safe from external threats—and as the control of flow, since security is based on the regularity of flows of food and a regulated exchange, between parent and child, of the flows of communication and affection. It is striking the way in which the question of security is no longer posed in terms of closure as in the modern age, where the two symbols of security were the prison, for internal security, and the border, for external security, but, instead, in terms of the control of circulations and exchanges. The key sites of security are no longer borders defining the spaces of states, but, within the territory itself, airports and railway stations, that is, the nodal points of communication and exchange. The problem becomes one of “traceability”: the ability to determine, at any given moment, what is moving, where it is coming from, where it is going, what it is doing in its current place, and if it actually has a right of access to the
network in which it is moving or if its use of the network is unauthorized. (25)

This new definition of security thus produces a continuous stream of threats, whether these are economic, climactic, social, ecological, political, hygienic, medical, or nutritional. Everything is part of one single continuum: natural disasters, epidemics, terrorist attacks, civil wars, rivalries between crime syndicates vying for the control of illicit traffcking in arms, drugs, people, climate change, poverty and unemployment, and so on. Today, all these threats are considered as risks to society understood in the broadest possible sense. In the interior of states, this continuum of threats is produced through the concept of “global security” which stands to a given population as “human security” stands to the whole of humanity, and which entails, in France and elsewhere, the fusion of all those institutional security authorities that had heretofore been separate. (26)

The biopolitical age of security has led to this great equivalence of all threats. This continuity and equalization entail the effacement of figures such as the worker, the citizen, the patriot, and so forth. All of them disappear for the beneft of the living individual whose vital nucleus must be secured, and nothing exists outside of the great community of living bodies, the security of which will be the responsibility of private organisms acting with the blessing of the state. (26)

The suspect must be distinguished from the enemy, who typically belongs to the third age of security. The enemy comes from the exterior and by the very fact of his threat patches up the holes in the national community. The enemy is identifiable and definable: he is a calculating and rational agent. The suspect, however, is by definition non-locatable and unpredictable. He is here, close at hand, and his threatening presence turns me into a stranger even to my closest neighbors. We live in an age of suspicion and distrust: suspect individuals, suspicious packages, suspect food. This generalized distrust appears as the shadowy side of globalization. On the other hand, one finds the victim. The new dispositif of security turns the individual, rather than the state, into a sacred object. Thus it is the suffering of the individual, his victimized condition, which now becomes scandalous. This figure of the victim makes the biopolitical security function through a new regime of affects that turn on compassion, which for its part is triggered by the various stagings offered by the media. Security, pity, image: this is the new articulation, different from the old system of sovereignty which drove national security through heroism and narrative. (27)

Spiritual security presupposes spiritual vigilance: the vigilance of the wise man who pays careful attention to his spiritual capacities and means of support, as well as to his possible weaknesses, as studied by Foucault in Hermeneutics of the Subject as one of the aspects of the care of the self. Imperial security presupposes paternal solicitude: the Emperor watches over his subjects like the shepherd over his flock, with that kindly care studied by Foucault in his writings on pastoral government. Sovereign security presupposes centralized surveillance of internal and external enemies, all submitted to the total gaze of the state as in Bentham’s Panopticon, the kingdom of spies. Biopolitical security implies flow control: the control of movements and communications, but in a decentralized fashion, depending on competing transnational networks, which immediately raises the question of access: who will have the right of access to any given network to control or redistribute any given flow? (27)

Bruce Braun “Biopolitics and the Molecularization of Life”

November 19, 2016 Leave a comment

Braun, Bruce 2007. Biopolitics and the Molecularization of Life. Cultural Geographies 14(1): 6–28.


On the one hand, I will argue that Rose relies on a singular and somewhat simplistic account of what has transpired with the rise of molecular biology and genetics; namely, that the body has come to be figured in terms of a genetic cod that belongs to the individual alone – its own ‘proper’, so to speak, which is both its own property, and that which forms the basis for its life. For Rose, the individual self and the genetic body coincide; the body is conceived as a bounded entity whose molecular existence is internal to it […] (7)


It is here, at the intersection of the molecularization of life with the individualization of risk, that Rose locates ethopolitics as the dominant biopolitical regime of the present. […] Risk becomes ‘individualized’; the individual becomes ‘intrinsically somatic’; and ethical practices ‘increasingly take the body as a key site for work on the self’. (11)


Is the body really the bounded and autonomous entity that Rose makes it out to be, constituted only in terms of an internal genetic essence that is its own ‘proper’, and that contains its future within it? […] at the same time that molecular biology and genetics have given us a body known at the molecular scale, and thus made the physical mechanisms of ‘life’ available to political and economic calculation in new ways, they have also, in conjunction with the science of immunology and virology, given us another way to conceive of our biological existence, no longer in terms of a self-contained body whose genetic inheritance is to be managed and improved, but in terms of a body embedded in a chaotic and unpredictable molecular world, a body understood in terms of a general economy of exchange and circulation, haunted by the spectre of newly emerging or still unspecifiable risks. […] This conjunction of biopolitics and geopolitics, of the molecularized body and the question of biosecurity, finds no place in Rose’s ethopolitics […] (14)


For Massumi the ‘virtual’ has a precise meaning, taken from Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze. It refers not to a nonexistent or immaterial entity, as in popular usage, but to a potentiality that is immanent in every object and in every situation. Unlike the ‘possible’, which is opposed to the real, the virtual is real, which is to say that it exists as concretely in the present. It is immaterial yet real, abstract yet concrete, a ‘future to come’ that is already with us, but which remains ungraspable. (17)


[biosecurity]: a set of political technologies that seek to govern biological disorder in the name of a particular community, through acts that are extraterritorial. Or, to say this differently, biosecurity under the auspices of the CDC and HHS retains the ideal of territoriality while simultaneously seizing on deterritorialization as the solution. (22)